Capitol Alert

VIDEO: Tom Steyer plans to spend money on legislative races

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who is spending heavily on political races nationwide, said Thursday that he plans to pour $1 million into legislative contests in California this year, possibly including Democrat-versus-Democrat races.

Steyer, a former hedge fund executive, said he will focus spending on voter registration and turnout operations for Democratic candidates who support environmental causes.

“There’s nothing, you know, in our bylaws that I’ve read that says we can’t get involved in D-on-D races, and we have,” Steyer said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board.

Steyer’s remarks come at the end of a legislative session in which he pushed unsuccessfully for a tax on oil extraction and legislation requiring a two-thirds vote of the electorate in any county before hydraulic fracturing could go forward in that area.

“I don’t think we ever got close,” he said.

Steyer, whose political action committee, NextGen Climate, said in May that it planned to spend $100 million this year on U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races nationwide, declined to say what California races he will involve himself in.

The effort is part of a fight between Steyer the oil industry over greenhouse gas reduction measures in California, with the oil industry currently rallying opposition to an expansion of California’s cap-and-trade program to vehicle fuels in 2015.

Sixteen Democrats signed a letter urging the Brown administration to delay the program’s expansion.

Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the oil-industry-backed Californians Against Higher Oil Taxes, said Steyer is “focusing on issues that aren’t resonating with Californians.”

Steyer, who is widely considered a potential candidate for statewide office, met privately Thursday with Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers. He said he does not know how much more than $1 million he will spend in California because “when you get into races, things happen.”

Steyer said he will try again next year to push for oil extraction legislation. He said a ballot measure remains a possibility but that “the right way for these things to happen is legislatively.”

Steyer has spent millions of dollars on the initiative process before – in 2010 to defeat an initiative that sought to roll back Assembly Bill 32, California’s greenhouse gas reduction law, and in 2010 on a measure to change the way multistate corporations are taxed in California and to direct proceeds to energy-saving projects here.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4:16 p.m. Thursday to reflect that Steyer was speaking only about an oil extraction tax when he said “the right way for these things to happen is legislatively.”

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